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la finca, Never Never Land

ECUADOR | Tuesday, 14 February 2006 | Views [8979] | Comments [11]

walk nearby the farm

walk nearby the farm

I have a novel to write about the week I just spent on the farm outside of Vilcabamba. I found it through WWOOF (worldwide organization of organic farms), and we decided to spend a week there. Vilcamba is in the south of Ecuador, 1 hour by airstream-like shuttle from Loja, a larger city with 2 universities, friendly people, very clean, and typical plazas.We spent the night in Loja before heading to Vilca. There are some photos of a random parade.. but generally it was nice, but nothing special.I did get stuck eating a burrito (which I was very excited about) but when it arrived it was just a tortilla filled with various meats, no beans, no rice. Oh well, at least the hot sauce was memorable.

SO we take the shuttle to vilcabamba, known as the valley of longevity, bc it was been noted that several of its citizens lived-are living past 110 or 120 years old, they contribute everything here to the super good, natural water. Its a strange town, small center, with inclusive hostals scattered all around, each one competing with the next for a nicer hot tub, better granola, etc.. its a travelers town, and for that reason, we stayed one night and were eager to leave.

The adventure started as we got these scavenger hunt like directions which took us one hour out of Vilcabamba to a town called Tumianuma, where we were supposed to find the blue alter which signified the center of town (very loose label). From there we continued to walk for 45 minutes (following an old farmer with a machete and a sack of something thrown over his shoulder.. but he tells us he knows Tina, the owner of the farm, so we follow). The last section once this guy turns off to his property gets a little hairy, the dierctions tell us to walk upstream for half a mile and the farm will be on the left. It also warned us that we woud get wet. This is an understatement, as we soon find oursleves forging this creek, with a decent current, still clutching a bag of eggs, upstream until we find what may be a clearing.  Soaking wet, we discover a nicely assembled bamboo fence, and with closer inspection we realize we have arrived, greeted by Colleen, a young tall woman with dreads and welcoming green eyes.. she is not expecting us, but happy to have visitors from the outside.

First we throw our bags down and get a tour. We unload all the food we brought in the kitchen and start walking around. There are 2 main houses and a kitchen. The upper house has 2 levels with 2 rooms. The upstairs room, now occupied by Ian (another volunteer who is not there at the moment), and the lower room which we claimed. The upper room we are told was inhabited by Johnny Lovewisdom (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johnny_Lovewisdom) for several years where he wrote several books. There are many stories about Johnny from all the locals.. rumor has it he may still be alive and hiding out in the mts somewhere.

There are 2 main gardens, mostly with veggies and greens,a nd some yucca they planted while we were there. The gardens are mainly for personal use on the farm, they dont take crops to the market, it{s pretty small scale. But her land reaches much beyond the houses and the gardens, and include many varieties of fruit trees; papaya, pineapple, passion fruit, avacado, orange, grapefruit, lemon, lime, and many more fruits Ive never seen before, ranging from super bitter to sugary sweet.

The shower is a spout thrown over a rock in a dirt nook, cold, but great view of the mountains. There is a compost shitter. There is no electricity on the farm, but a solar panel charges up a 12V battery which we use to power up the music and a light in the kitchen when necessary. We had one day all week without power, but for the most part, days were sunny (= music), and rain fell heavily at night and drizzled just before dinner. A gas tank kept the stove going, for everything else candles did the job.

We get introduced to Marlon the cat (who nurses from the dog, and shares her food), and Barbie, the dog. Yapita, the goat, is fairly new and eventually they will start milking her. Tina, the current owner of the farm, moved to Ecuador with some people when Y2K was approaching, and never left. SHe is a midwife and so spends lots of time in nearby towns with pregnant women. Therefore, volunteers are very important to contribute to ongoing projects. 2 Ecuadorian guys, Andres and Patricio come daily to work and keep things running. Being from the campo, they know it all. Patricio is the silent leader. At 18 yrs old, he acts with the wisdom of someone much older, guiding us with gestures and glances. Andres, 29, likes to make goofy jokes, and sharpen his machete at every change he gets. We are told there are snakes (and recent sightings) in the area, Maroconchi snakes, poisonous, deadly, with pretty patterns. If you get bit, there is a vacine in Vilca, and you have 12 hours to get there.

We return from the tour of the area, and the brief scoop on everything and decide to open up the banana bread we bought from Martha in town. It is nowhere to be found. I go back to the room to look in my bag.. nothing. Shira concludes, it must have been the dog. Now, I have never had a dog as a pet, and so could not really the fathom this, but a week later, no sign of the plastic or anything(although the dog did barf 2 times that week... bad karma).. so we conclude the dog stole the banana bread straight off the counter in no less than 1 hour after it arrived... and so there goes the one sweet item we had in the lot.

First night we make dinner, give the run down on where weve come from where we are going (as much as is possible in one night), and try to get a good nights sleep on the bamboo bed which shira and I are sharing.

Day 2:

Make some amazing coffee. The best we have had in ecuador (which isnt saying much bc mostly we get instant). But this is local, the real deal, produced in the region and packaged locally by a womens coop about 2 hours away.We meet Andres and Patricio. They start to work finishing up the fence around the second garden. Wire plus bamboo = really strong fence. Shira and I decide to embark on a painting project. Using the 2 colors we find, white and yellow, and some powder we put to use as color dye (pink and blue), we start on the upper house... a bland concrete structure. We paint up the columns a cheerful blue and yellow.. better already. Then we bust out the rickety super crooked tree-and-nail ladder and get more adventurous with waves floating across the top of hte house. Its cheesy, but an agreeable improvement. We are splattered in paint by the time its all over. I think shira just scratched off the last remanants yesterday. MY nice hiking, outing, everything black pants, are now as good as painters overalls...

Lunch (almuerzo) is a big deal in Ecuador, the biggest meal of the day, usually eaten at 12 or 12:30 en punto. Our mediodia at the finca is noon. Everything stops and Andres and Patricio hang out patiently while we scramble to finish making lunch. The basic ingredients we have to work with include; rice, beans, pasta, potatoes, kale, cabbage, carrots, radishes, cilantro, onion, garlic, assorted veggies, salt, pepper, soup mixes, tomatoes, eggs... all our meals are variations on these ingredients, mas o menos, until they run out, or we go to town to get more. Surprisingly we were very innovative, and each meal was a mountain of fresh goodness.

If we were super ambitious, for lunch we would make juice too, from whatever fruits we wanted to gather that day. This was done with a metal strainer, spoon, and lots of patience.. but always worthwhile.. usually we would reserve this as an evening activity.

Gathering around the small rectangular table each day for lunch was a nice routine. We would eat in silence. South Americans in general (as far as Ive seen) take food very seriously. no talking, just eating, enjoying, and being thankful that its there. Afterward we sit around, bullshit, and around 2pm we start up the afternoon activity, whatever it may be.

Day 3:

Berrypicking. SHira and I set off along the irrigation ditch to collect berries. There are several ripe bushes with blackberries, the smae kind I remember picking in camp. When they are ready, they fall off the bunch, not much guesswork involved. as we fought our way through prickily bushes we plucked the sweetest berries we could possibly reach. Surrounded by fields of butterflies, it was amazing. We filled half of 2 plastic bags and returned to the farm, boiled them up, and put our work aside for juice later that night (the seed goop later in the week served as both cookie filling and jam).

We mix up the powder artichoke soup to accompany lunch that day, and to my surprise it is a huge hit, especially with Andres. I guess we have discovered the secret to ecuadorian soup.. mixes. So everyone is not home cooking soup from scratch everyday.. it was actually pretty good.

After lunch, SHira and I walk to town to stock up on some groceries. Town is Tumianuma. There is one tienda, run by Gloria and her family. ANother smaller tienda with drinks, owned by Abram, and his blind wife Julia, a really loud donkey, church, soccer goal, and thats pretty much it. We go visit Gloria with our wish list of items, and with $8must decide, price-is-right style what we need, and what is possible. As 5 kids gather around us as we translate our list into spanish, much pointing and gesturing included, we communicate some things more easily than others. By the end we filled our canvas bag with the following;2 bags of rice, 6 eggs, 1 bag of salt, oregano, cumin, 1 roll of TP, butter, 6 candles, 2 cans of milk, cheese, and a choc ice cream cone for the road. All this for exactly $7. As we walk away, I realize we forgot to buy booze. Gloria doesnt sell anything, and anyway there is only one thing available, Cañita, a clear alcohol made from sugarcane, it goes great in the juice! We walk over to the other tienda, and score a bottle with our last dollar. Success. We walk back to the farm, this time with all our eggs in tact.

Day 4:

Cooking in the adobe oven. I wake up and colleen is making cookie dough. Ian, the 4th volunteer who returned from a weekend trip, is bringing over the fire wood for the oven. We baked the most amazing cookies, they tasted so good (esp for breakfast), and bread. We wanted to make tortillas, but we ended up with rolls. Patricio helped with the ingredients and instructions, I kneeded the dough and threw it around in the bowl. The bread cooked for a long time, forming a super crunch hard outer shell, and gooey semi-cooked center, patricio did not approve, but impatient americans couldnt wait any longer...

In the afteroon I worked on transplanting the Tok Choy (similiar to bok choy) from one bed to another where they had more room to grow. I had to separate all these tiny plants from their neighbors who they were closely intertwined, and coodependent on,and give them a new home with lots of space and fresh sprinkles of water to ease the transition. It was very meditative work, I liked it a lot. I was a bit worried I had killed them at first, but luckily they survived a very heavy rain that fell that night...

In the evening I decided to try out the hammock upstairs for sleeping, since the bamboo bed just wasnt improving. Well, I can confirm now, in my opinion, hammocks are for napping, not sleeping.  Before I went to sleep, the dog was in the room and barfed on the floor to the left of the hammock (banana bread?), so I had to remember not to wake up on the wrong side of the hammock in the middle of the night to go pee.... at any rate, the rain that night was the heaviest and loudiest Ive ever heard. On the tip roof above, it was mesmermizing. It was worth a night´s sleep just to stay up and listen to this concert pound away... thinking abour my poor lil tok choy plants braving the storm...

Day 5:

More gardening. In the morning Shira and I worked together on another bed, harvesting these tiny  lettuce greens (which lasted 3 meals), and making room for the kale that was interspersed to breathe and grow. We cleaned up the whole bed, it was very satisfying.

After lunch, Colleen gave shira a belly dance lesson, while shira gave a capeoira lesson in exchange. Patricio and Andres gawked at the sight of women dancing so strangely, so freely. It was more fun for me just to watch their expressions.

With this energy, they finished chopping down a tree that was blocking sun from the garden. Afterwards, they decide we should use this fallen trunk as a bridge further downstream, so their is a crossing point at the base of the farm. What followed was a crazy episode of the six of us 1) carrying this log over to the stream 2) tieing a rope around it and herding-pulling it downstream like an untameable wild animal that weighs more than all of us x10. Ian is the first full on in the water, doing all the dirty work. The current is strong, and it´s a series of pushing, shoving, grunting, and shifting as this log makes its way downstream. I am soaked up to my waist, dumping water out of my boots at every chance I get. It was a crazy idea, and we pulled it off. Patricio managed to stay dry as he conducted the ceremony. In my opinion in the end, we took 8 minutes off the walk to the farm. and if I had to choose between this ¨bridge¨or the ¨leap of faith¨bridge´(the other one further upstream), I´d feel safer taking my chances with fate.. but they were happy.

We finish this escapade, change clothes, and all walk into town together. Ian had promised he would return to take a photo (polaroid) of Gloria and her family in front of the tienda. We go to town, take the photo, chat with Gloria, she invites us in for cafecito, rolls and cheese... a very gracious gesture. We fuel up, talk with her and her husband before heading back to the farm. Ian, also known as ¨veinte-siete¨ or 27 in english, is the master of bullshitting his way through spanish. He knows enough, and has enough charm to get by, but the way he does it is difficult to explain, but super funny to watch and listen to. He´s perfected the art of getting by, bc he says what he needs to without pausing to worry that its incorrect, he just rolls with it, and everyone else seems to also. His fav pharses are ¨mas o menos¨ ¨que rico¨y ¨poca a poca¨ .. anyway it´s not as funny to explain, but I had to mention it.

We prepare a great mashpotato medley for dinner, fresh queso and herbs... yumm we are straving from the day´s workout. After dinner I help Ian burn the ends of some bamboo he is cutting to use for jewerely beads. It was just like roasting marshmellows over a candle.. I was careful to darken the ends, and leave the middle golden brown with some dots. A few days later before we left, he had surprised us by making bracelets for all of us with these beads... our farm friendship bracelets.. how very camp-like, and so far it hasnt worn down yet.

Day 6:

Best sleep yet, finally I am used to the bed, and feel strong when I wake up. Last day on the farm, how sad. We went out in the morning with a big woven colorful basket to harvest fruit to bring into town with us. We use a giant piece of bamboo that has notches in the top to grap and twist the branches with in order to loosen the fruit. We come back with 2 full baskets...

What a life. It´s def not a model of farm, country life... but it´s fun to play and learn poca a poca about different aspects of life in the valley. Being without an adult supervisor was especially interesting. It was a bit like some kind of experimental  community, all sharing roles, doing our part, being responsible, having a great time, being dirty, peeing wherever we wanted, all at a great distance from authority, TV, from contact really with worldnt matters.. only concerned with what we could see and touch. Enjoying the silences and noises in nature and with each other.Watching the moths at night committ suicide in the candle flame, watching the ants carry bricks on their backs across the pavement... so much. ... but realizing only a sliver of how hard life is in the country. You are working to survive, and joking a lot, because life is hard, and smiles are free. 

Day 7:

We hike out at 5:30am, sun rising, to make the 7am bus from Tumianuma to vilca, and from there, we are headed to loja to take care of city business (internet, laundry, phone calls). Colleen comes back with us and we spend the night dancing in Loja... the rest is history.

Tags: The Great Outdoors



We are considering visiting this same farm in a month or so. Good to hear your experiences, sounds like alot of fun.

  Adam and Rivka Aug 15, 2006 8:51 AM



  andry Sep 21, 2006 3:11 AM


I visited this same place many years ago (in the 1980's) when Johnny Lovewisdom and his followers inhabited the valley. Also living there were Ruth Marie, John Ham, Jeff and Barbara. It was a great place.

  John Spitaleri Oct 17, 2007 6:13 AM


Hi Person who is writting crap about Vilcabamba and praising an imposter.
Get you facts straight, Tina does not own the land that she is living on. she is squating on my dad's land. go figure, she fooled you to. she is a great con.

  John Ham May 21, 2009 9:40 PM


hi! this is tina, of neverland farm. i DO own this land, free and clear title. it IS an experience in sustainable living! i really need to know who sent the last blog as john ham is missing and clues to his whereabouts are very important. please be in touch with me ASAP. it is SO important. thank you for your nice comments, i love it there too! peace, tina marshall neverlandfarm.org

  tina Marshall Aug 10, 2009 12:04 AM


Hi! this is Ethan Aaron, of neverland farm. I DO own this land, free and clear title. It is an experience in sustainable living! I really need to know who sent the last blog as john ham is missing and clues to his whereabouts are very important. please be in touch with me ASAP. it is SO important. thank you for your nice comments, i love it there too! peace, Ethan Aaron

  Ethan Aaron Nov 22, 2009 6:01 PM


Hi to Ruth Marie!

  todd cory Dec 22, 2009 6:46 AM


Is there still trouble in paradise?

  John Spitaleri May 18, 2013 10:26 AM


Tina is definitely a con. World be warned. She is still at it. #neverland #neveragainland #worldbewarned

  Neverland Chirusco Farm May 4, 2017 6:10 AM


I can attest to the negativity of Neverland Farm and Tina's dishonesty. Terrible experience, poorly organized, not true farm, very negative energy, bad history, not safe. I "volunteered" 2 months as a wwoofer.

  Skippy Nov 25, 2017 2:18 PM


Well, after volunteering & teaching Math and English in Quinara and Tumianuma for 7 months and paying the weekly fee for myself and my traveling partner at Neverland Organic Farm with Lucas Christenson, fellow kindred spirits Amy Sills , Anna, 27 , Martha, Hanz , and many Ecuadorian locals, Tina publicized our honest , donated and volunteered help on her website (http://www.neverlandfarm.org/community_service.php) to attract more business for herself ("Julia, and Alaina, previous volunteers, have had strong ideas on providing guidance towards higher education and have helped these kids be more likely to go on to university. ") . Unfortunately, she then extorted (from Ecuador and while maintaining Neverland Organic Farm) over twice my family's annual farm income from our State Government in Montana of the United States by charging us with overtime when we gave her salary and a place to live for 4 months to help Neverland Farm when she asked me for work. I hope she gives Silvia, Carlos, Patricio and the schools at least $5,000 each for all their genuine daily work that truly carries the farm, as all of us that have stayed on the farm know so well. As she is a United States citizen , Tina can and will do that to people all over the world I have learned (http://thecuriousrambler.com/2014/03/04/neverland-farm-never-seems/) . Lucas, remember when we used to always wonder if Tina was telling the truth amidst all her stories? Well, when someone shows you their true colors, believe them. Bless and release world family! I am posting this review because I believe everyone is special and can do magical things when you create business with others that are not trying to take advantage of others. There are so many other beautiful places to go and people to enjoy life with. I will return to Neverland when it is being guided by nature with intentions to bring out the best in everyone, not just talk about it.

Travel , volunteer and donate to Neverland Organic Farm at your own risk.

  Alaina Nov 19, 2018 12:21 AM



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